Drones In Pakistan: Additional Security Threat – OpEd
By Vladimir Gladkov
On Tuesday, US scientists published a study designed to draw attention to the problem of using drones in Pakistan’s air space. The study that was conducted by law professors at Stanford and New York University contends that the drone attacks spoil efforts aimed at successfully containing extremisms.
Despite the fact that the air strikes help contain militants’ activity, these strikes also claim the lives of civilians, something that undermines the US’ image and helps extremist propagandists resolve a number of tasks. Of course, it would be naïve to think that the publication will be able to change Washington’s stance on the matter. The drone attacks have repeatedly fueled scandals and nearly contributed to the breakup of relations between America and Pakistan. Despite the ongoing deterioration in the situation, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency are reluctant to rethink their approach to the topic.
As for the study, it relies on a host of interviews with civilians living in the regions of northern Pakistan where targeted drone strikes have been most frequent. The survey says that the US drone program leads to the escalation of anti-American moods in the region. According to the study, given that drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, those living there have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, something that prevents civilians from visiting funerals, nuptials and community gatherings. Humanitarian workers, for their part, also criticize the Pentagon’s methods of fighting suspected terrorists. According to them, the drones permanently launching missile strikes on the same sector keeps rescuers from rendering medical assistance to all those injured because rescuers themselves face the risk of being killed.
The authors of the publication also point out the US government’s efforts to hush up information about the drone strikes and their victims. This makes it practically impossible to investigate the loss of human life during such strikes.
The CIA program on using drones to combat extremists remains one of the most complicated issues of the US’ foreign policy. On the one hand, the drone strikes helped coalition forces to clamp down on militants based in safe havens in Pakistan’s cross-border districts. But on the other hand, many experts have more than once said that America would never benefit from the drone program that they said should be revised.
Regular reports about the death of civilians during the drones’ “friendly fire” add to anti-American moods and play into the hands of radicals’ propagandists. Also, it is worth noting in this connection that it was the drone strike that killed a group of Pakistani soldiers and nearly severed ties between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistani authorities were quick to block a strategically important supply route to Afghanistan via Pakistani soil, prodding NATO to look for alternative routes. As a result, however, the US resumed missile strikes ahead of clinching an agreement with Islamabad.
In June, American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration which said that the very fact of implementing the drone program has yet to be confirmed. Human rights activists referred to the Freedom of Information Act, demanding that government lawyers should provide documents demonstrating principles of the drone program and the selection of individuals to be destroyed. The lawyers refused to do so, referring to the so-called Glomar doctrine, a document that specifically warns against disclosing secret information and that has repeatedly been cited by the CIA.
The existence of such a program questions Obama’s ability to deliver on his promises. It is worth noting that the drone attacks were also used under the presidency of George Walker Bush, much criticized by Obama. But at the time, the drones targeted key figures of terrorist organizations rather than crowded areas with suspected militants, something that is currently taking place. All this may further add to anti-Western sentiments that will in turn play into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.